The Colorado Question

There’s a heated debate going on in Colorado right now, over something called the ‘Academic Bill of Rights,’ planned legislation that would enforce or promote or encourage universities to adhere to or comply with said Bill of Rights, David Horowitz, the imbalance between registered Democrats and registered Republicans in the political science departments of Colorado universities, and whether and how something should be done about said imbalance. The Academic Bill of Rights itself sounds pretty unexceptionable, declaring for instance that scholars should be hired on the basis of their competence and appropriate knowledge, not their political beliefs. That provision, for instance, is simply another version of B&W’s mission statement. So far so good. But it is difficult to help being suspicious. It is a Republican governor and legislature that has landed on the idea like a duck on a June bug, and I don’t share Republicans’ assumption that it is only the left that has an axe to grind. I wonder, for example, what these surveys that tell us how many Democrats and Republicans are in the political science department, have to say about how many of each are in the business school – which is, if Colorado universities are typical, much, much larger than the poli sci department. My innocent guess is that Republicans are well represented in business schools. Perhaps over-represented. Does this worry the Republican governor and legislature? If not, why not?

And then there is the question of why there are more Democrats than Republicans in the political science department. It’s not automatically or self-evidently the case that that could only happen if the people doing the hiring were applying political criteria. That’s one possible explanation, but surely it is not very difficult to think of others. Self-selection, for instance. Perhaps the kind of people who prefer teaching political science to, say, selling real estate or bonds, are also the kind of people who prefer to be Democrats. Now, how would the governor and legislature go about fixing that, if it turned out to be the explanation? People’s free choices about how to live their lives, what kind of work they do, what they think and believe, what parties they do or don’t belong to, are supposed to be the kind of thing Republicans are keen to protect. Aren’t they? Am I wrong? Wouldn’t they think it was what they like to call ‘social engineering’ to start fretting about the fact that there are ‘too many’ of one kind of people in universities and ‘too many’ of another kind in real estate, and start issuing instructions and laws and regulations designed to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’?

I don’t know. It seems likely to me that there is a lot of the second kind of reason involved along with (perhaps) some of the first, but I don’t know. Meanwhile at least there is an array of opinion represented in reply to this article at History News Network. And the article makes some good points, too.

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